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What to do about Shiblon… er, Shiblom?

Don’t ask me why I thought it would be fun and profitable to research Jaredite genealogy. Perhaps it was to determine if “descendant of” meant something different than “son of”. For whatever reason, I sat down one day years ago to trace out the genealogies in the Book of Ether. I made a table similar to the following:

Generation Genealogy according to Ether 1:6–32 Genealogy according to the remainder of Ether
1 Jared Jared
2 Orihah Orihah (6:27)
3 Kib Kib (7:3)
4 Shule Shule (7:7)
5 Omer Omer (8:1)
6 Emer Emer (9:14)
7 Coriantum Coriantum (9:21)
8 Com Com (9:25)
9 Heth Heth (9:25)
10 Shez Shez (descendant) (10:1)
11 Riplakish Riplakish (10:4)
12 Morianton (descendant) Morianton (descendant) (10:9)
13 Kim Kim (10:13)
14 Levi Levi (10:14)
15 Corom Corom (10:16)
16 Kish Kish (indeterminate) (10:17)
17 Lib Lib (indeterminate) (10:18)
18 Hearthom Hearthom (10:29)
19 Heth Heth (10:31)
20 Aaron (descendant) Aaron (10:31)
21 Amnigaddah Amnigaddah (10:31)
22 Coriantum Coriantum (10:31)
23 Com Com (10:31)
24 Shiblon Shiblom (11:4)
25 Seth Seth (indeterminate) (11:9)
26 Ahah Ahah (11:10)
27 Ethem Ethem (descendant) (11:11)
28 Moron Moron (11:14)
29 Coriantor Coriantor (11:18)
30 Ether (descendant) Ether (11:23)

After compiling the table, I scanned over the results and realized that I must have written down the information for generation 24 wrong: the two names conflicted. So I checked Ether 1:12: Shiblon. So I thought my mistake must have been at Ether 11:4. Turning to that verse, my heart skipped a few beats: Shiblom! I hadn’t written it wrong, there was an error in the Book of Mormon!

This moment was an important transition for me. Prior to this discovery, I believed that it was entirely possible that the Book of Mormon was the inerrant, letter-perfect word of God. In a moment, I realized that this could not possibly be true.

I believed that the Bible had errors of translation, but the Mormon Article of Faith 8 implied that the Book of Mormon was immune from this problem: “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.” There was no caveat regarding translation errors in the Book of Mormon.

Of course there were scriptures like Mormon 8:17 which indicated that there might be some problems.

And if there be faults [in the Book of Mormon] they be the faults of a man. But behold, we know no fault; nevertheless God knoweth all things; therefore, he that condemneth, let him be aware lest he shall be in danger of hell fire.

I had always assumed that this was false modesty or that Moroni was talking about the human frailties recounted in the Book of Mormon stories. I hadn’t considered that there would be such a glaring spelling error.

This may seem silly that I was disturbed over such a little thing as a probable scribal error. The two names do sound a lot alike. I could easily imagine Joseph Smith rattling off names while his scribe mistook “Shiblom” for “Shiblon”, an honest mistake.

But please remember my beliefs at this time. I believed that God had ensured the letter-perfect transmission of the Book of Mormon from ancient prophets to me. It doesn’t take much evidence to destroy an absolute belief like that, so this spelling inconsistency took on mammoth importance in the story of my faith. While I retained my faith, it was the first step down from absolutist, fundamentalist Mormonism.

If there was one error in the Book of Mormon, then there could be others. If God didn’t ensure that everything was perfect about the Book of Mormon, maybe he didn’t ensure that every General Conference talk was perfect either. Maybe some of the things the prophets had said were just their personal opinions.…

I think you can see where this is going. That seed of doubt bore fruit years later in my utter rejection of the Mormon claims to divine investiture.

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  1. Lincoln Cannon said,

    October 29, 2007 @ 1:59 pm

    Hi Jonathan. That’s an interesting find. You might like this:

    It is a parallel textual comparison of the Bible and the Book of Mormon that I originally put together for my honors thesis at BYU, and later expanded into a software program that automates the comparison.

  2. Cliff said,

    October 29, 2007 @ 6:57 pm

    When a Mormon *doesn’t* learn this truth, its a real tragedy. When I learned it, it made me a much better Mormon, because it allowed me to think and receive the inspiration of God more directly, and have confidence in my own personal revelation.

    This in turn allowed me to know that hominids have been making bowls and other ‘tools’ for at least 20,000 years, regardless of what Joseph Fielding Smith thought. Since the Church teaches that all truth can be circumscribed into one great whole, it has caused me to seek unity in all, and that was a second infusion of realizations that sweetened the first immeasurably.

    The Gospel and the Church are two different (and I believe, complementary) things. The sooner people find that out, the better.

  3. Jonathan Blake said,

    October 29, 2007 @ 9:32 pm


    Interesting. What was the data source for the comparison?


    I agree. If someone is going to practice Mormonism, I think it’s best to do it with their eyes open. Fundamentalism of any sort seems to be a form of immaturity especially prevalent in adolescence. In this respect, I agree with the spirit of James Fowler’s ideas on faith.

  4. Lincoln Cannon said,

    October 30, 2007 @ 8:33 am

    I used plain text files for both books.

  5. Jonathan Blake said,

    October 30, 2007 @ 11:07 am

    And was the comparison done manually or automatically? The reason I ask is that there are obscure comparisons that I never noticed before.

  6. Lincoln Cannon said,

    October 30, 2007 @ 1:41 pm

    The first comparison was manual, which required several months of long hours. Afterwards, I automated the process to compare and confirm results. The results on the site you looked at are from the automated comparison — the site is just a stylesheet applied to XML files generated by the comparison tool (you can see the XML by looking at source). The automated comparison is more detailed, but does not catch a few things the manual comparison caught.

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